The diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) messages from the Office of the President share Illinois State University’s ongoing progress advancing equity and inclusion with transparency and information exchange.

This update includes information on the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, a new transcription element to Zoom, and the evolution of Safe Zone to “Safe(ish)”.

President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council
Appointed in 2019, the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council (DIAC) interfaces with campus leaders, students, and constituency groups to advance the University’s efforts to ensure a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and socially just learning community.

DIAC was convened as a result of the Campus Climate Task Force recommendations and the group has been charged with advising the Office of the President on diversity and equity-related policies, practices, and programs.

“DIAC’s strategic plan is currently being drafted and will provide a framework for our work moving forward,” said DIAC Chair Doris Houston of the Office of the President. “We look forward to presenting a draft of the completed plan to the campus community in the spring to secure feedback and commentary that will ensure a shared vision and purpose.”

Though DIAC’s efforts were slowed due to COVID-19, members are currently dividing into working subcommittees to explore areas such as retention of faculty, staff, and students, and long-term DEI planning. “We look forward to working with the many areas across campus dedicated to this work and continuing to highlight those efforts for the campus and community partners,” said Houston.

Speech-to-text function in Zoom
Technology Solutions announced the addition of Otter.ai for Zoom. The program is a speech-to-text transcription service, using artificial intelligence.

“This option provides an accessibility resource for students, faculty, and staff,” said Tammie Keney of Student Access and Accommodation Services (SAAS). “It addresses the need for meeting all learning styles in all course and program delivery.”

The option is only available for Zoom meeting hosts, so students and participants will need to request the service for classes and meetings held on Zoom. For Zoom hosts, directions on how to begin auto-transcription at the beginning of each meeting is available on the Technology Solutions site.

Safe Zone to Safe(ish)
As the Safe Zone training program celebrated 20 years on campus, the Multicultural Center began to re-evaluate the Safe Zone curriculum to reflect changing needs of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.

That included examining what the word “safe” means in today’s society. “We understand that while we can never promise an environment that is wholly safe from trauma, it is our goal to offer spaces of healing, exploration, and belonging,” said Kwame Patterson, associate director of the Multicultural Center.

The new Safe(ish) series will explore LGBTQ+ identity and provide sustainable and inclusive strategies that acknowledge, affirm, and advocate for gender expansive and LGBTQ+ Identities. The first program will be Tuesday, November 17, facilitated by Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins, Business Equality Magazine’s “Top 40 LGBTQ Under 40” for 2020, writer, speaker, and social justice educator who focuses on issues related to gender, race, and media. Higgins, known as Dr. JonPaul, has been featured in Complex Magazine, Out Magazine, Them, Essence, The Root, Blavity, MTV News, and much more. They bring an intersectional focus to the discussion around safety and the LGBTQ+ community.

Launched on campus in the wake of the brutal killing of University of Wyoming student Matthew Sheppard in 1998, Safe Zone was originally designed as an educational opportunity for faculty, staff, and students to learn about the LGBTQ+ community and included real-life scenarios based on experiences of ISU students. Upon completion of this training participants and their workspaces/offices were identified as Safe Zones where LGBTQI+ students could receive support and reassurance.

In the evolution from Safe Zone to Safe(ish), Patterson noted that “a two-hour orientation does not deem a building or person as safe, but it can provide an opportunity for understanding and deeper commitments around disrupting oppression and valuing intersectional identities. These commitments create more opportunities for increased sense of belonging for those who are most marginalized.”

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